Gang beat

Enhanced police unit results in shooting arrest

Earlier this year, in response to a spate of deadly gang activity around the city, the Chico Police Department merged its two-detective Gang Unit with its Street Crimes Unit.

“Basically, that made them a faster-responding, more-capable team,” explained Sgt. Rob Merrifield, while discussing CPD’s efforts to get a handle on the city’s gang violence, including two murders a week apart in January.

The combination of the units proved particularly successful this past Saturday evening as the officers responded to an early evening vehicle-to-vehicle gun battle in south Chico. Tipped off that one of the suspects in the shooting may go by the name Gregorio, and having a vehicle description of a white minivan with flat tires, the officers began looking for Gregorio Perez-Garcia, a known gang member.

Merrifield said the new six-person unit has been doing a lot of probation searches recently. Consequently, they know more about gang members and suspected gang members. In this case, the detectives knew that Perez-Garcia’s mother owned a van matching the description of the one involved in the shooting.

“So much of what they do is just knowing who the players are,” Merrifield said.

The officers first looked for Perez-Garcia at his home on La Leita Court in the Chapman neighborhood, but they found neither him nor the van. A short time later, Butte County sheriff’s deputies, who also had responded to the shooting, located an abandoned vehicle matching its description on Jackson Street.

At about the same time, neighbors reported hearing someone running through the back yards of nearby residences, breaking down fences. It turned out to be Perez-Garcia, whom the deputies quickly ran down. They found evidence linking him to the van and found a sawed-off shotgun inside in the vehicle.

Merrifield said the 20-year-old gang member was transported to Butte County Jail and likely will face a slew of charges, including firing at an occupied vehicle, possession of a dangerous weapon and participating in a criminal street gang.

The shooting took place near Broadway and 18th streets. The other vehicle involved is described as a black hatchback or sedan. Witnesses say both vehicles exchanged fire, and detectives suspect the other party is a rival gang member. A home in the area was riddled with buckshot, but the police have received no reports of victims.

Merrifield pointed out that gang violence isn’t isolated to any particular neighborhood or time of day. The department was alerted to the shooting shortly after 8 p.m.

“It’s really where these people happen to come into contact with each other,” he said, noting a shooting that took place a couple of years ago in broad daylight at the Carl’s Jr. on The Esplanade.

Two gang-related murders early this year are what led to the reorganized Street Crimes Unit. The first victim, 23-year-old Randy Mark Brass Jr., was shot during a gun battle near Chico State on Jan. 22. He succumbed to his injuries days later at Enloe Medical Center. The other victim, 21-year-old José Barajas Sánchez, was found shot and burned near Chico River Road days after his Jan. 27 murder.

Suspect Antonio Montes Linares, of Chico, is scheduled to go to trial in the Sánchez case later this month. Brass’ murder remains unsolved.